The number of cases involving Internet defamation seem to be growing every day. So too, are the number of related issues that businesses need to consider in relation to online activities. Case in point is the recent British Columbia Court of Appeal decision of Crookes v. Newton, where the court was asked if providing a hyperlink to another website containing defamatory comments constituted Internet defamation.
A key hurdle that claimants must prove in defamation lawsuits is that defendants “published” defamatory words. Internet defamation is no different, and in the Crookes case, the court concluded that providing a hyperlink does not necessarily equal the “publishing” of defamatory content. If a website simply provides a hyperlink, or describes a hyperlink’s content in a neutral manner, then according to the court in Crookes, the hyperlink is not adopting the offending words as its own and is not indirectly “publishing” them. However, if the linking website endorses the content of the hyperlink material or encourages the reader to click the hyperlink to the website that contains defamatory material, the defendant may be just as liable for defamation as the original author of the offending material.
The Crookes case provides useful guidance, but businesses should be reminded that each Internet defamation case will turn on its own specific facts, and factors that will be considered include the wording, tone and placement of hyperlinks. To help minimize the risk of being sued for the publication of defamatory comments, business owners should seek legal advice prior to hyperlinking to any potentially defamatory materials on the Internet.